Puppet Origin Stories: 3D Polygonal Masks

by fingerplayers

In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke to the Makers and Designers of the puppets we have in The Finger Players (TFP), to create the repository that is the Puppet Origin Stories – a humble effort to highlight the background, and the making and design history of these puppets. We hope that this can be a continued endeavour at TFP, and we hope that you can go on this journey with us.

Featured in: Off Centre, 2015

In terms of puppetry and performance objects, the creative team for the 2015 production of Off Centre consisted of Chan Silei, Daniel Sim, Myra Loke and Oliver Chong.

Off Centre was the first project where Daniel was officially hired as a maker for the company. Prior to that, he had specialised in puppet design in his Junior College’s theatre studies course. He was introduced to The Finger Players (TFP) in 2007 by his senior, Shawn Chua, an artist and researcher. Daniel had first watched the staging of Furthest North Deepest South at the Singapore Art Museum, and began his experience with TFP by volunteering at various TFP events, distributing flyers and learning from the artists in the company. He then started taking on other roles, for example as a sound operator, whilst building and repairing props along the way in order to better his skills along the way. 

This staging was part of Esplanade’s The Studios: fifty, and Oliver had chosen to direct this play written by Haresh Sharma, a story that explores the journey of Vinod and Saloma as they struggle to navigate their lives in a society that stigmatizes mental illness.

Production photo of Off Centre, part of Studios: fifty, featuring 3D masks fashioned after Ebi Shankara’s face

Oliver wanted to amplify the reactions that the general public would have towards persons with schizophrenia, but in a warped way. As mental illnesses manifest differently for varying individuals, Oliver had decided that in Vinod’s case, as a result of his schizophrenia, he would see multiple versions of himself.

Thus, he decided to construct full-head masks to represent the different versions Vinod saw of himself. Two types of masks were made for the production – a human one, featuring the face of Ebi Shankara, the actor playing Vinod, and animal ones of a bird and a cat.

3D bird mask

However, rather than taking on a literal interpretation of a face for the masks, a 3D polygonal design was chosen because Oliver felt it represented Vinod’s psyche, and the fragmented way he processes the world. 

While the templates for the animal masks were purchased online, the process of creating the human mask was far more arduous since it had to be modelled after Ebi. The process started with taking 360 degree photos of Ebi. Silei then used these to plot Ebi’s face out on a computer programme called Rhinoceros 3D. She then transformed this into a polygonal mesh, which was used by the team to create the masks.

3D Cat Mask

Before the creation process began, it was decided that the masks had to be in the form of a wearable helmet. After a long experimentation process which involved much prototyping, the team decided that to build the mask, the polygon print-outs had to be scored and folded together. The inner sides were reinforced with two layers of papier mache, alternating with one to two layers of plaster gauze. On the outside, copic markers were used to colour the fold lines. A construction helmet was then cut apart and glued into the polygon mask so that the actors could wear them over their heads.

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